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2018 Outback Bowl – Defensive Duel Expected Between No. 18 Mississippi State vs Iowa 

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Jay Ginsbach

December 31st, 2018

The No. 18 Mississippi State Bulldogs and Iowa Hawkeyes kick-off New Year’s Day in the 2018 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. This is going to be a war of attrition, with a very low total that has been bet down to 42.0 on the nose. We know what kind of game it's going to be, but does that mean that the 7.5 points the Bulldogs are laying is too much?

2018 Outback Bowl No. 18 Mississippi Rebels (8-4) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) Tuesday, January 1st – Tampa, FL 12:00pm ET (ESPN2) Betting Line: Mississippi State -7.5 (42)

Iowa was 6-1 and moving up the AP rankings before losing three straight games. It started with a loss at Penn State 30-24 when Iowa QB Nate Stanley three an interception on first and goal late in the contest as Iowa looked poised to pull it out and win. The Hawkeyes' balanced offense, centered around their pound-the-ground running game, led them to a rout over Illinois and 31-28 win against Nebraska with 266 rushing yards in the season finale. Along with a Hawkeyes' Top-10 defense that allows 17.7 points per game and 295.2 yards per game to rank Top-10 in the country, Iowa looks like an underdog worth supporting in this New Year’s Day match-up.

Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead has to feel pretty good about his first season in Starkville with a strong finish. The Bulldogs started 0-2 in SEC play and were 4-3 overall after a 19-3 loss at LSU. But Moorhead turned to more running schemes down the stretch, which balanced the attack and helped the Bulldogs score at least 28 points in four of the final five games. The Bulldogs boast the No. 1 defense in the country in total yards and points, with their defensive unit serving as instrumental in their success, allowing just 267.9 yards per game along with 12.5 points per game against FBS opponents. The only loss in their last five games was to No. 1 Alabama 24-0. While getting shutout looks bad, the Bulldogs defense held Alabama to half their season scoring average. Still, the Bulldogs scored just 7, 3 and 0 points in three road games against the top SEC defenses. While that’s a concern, the season long stats don’t account for the offensive improvement.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald completed just 52% of his passes this season, but the senior did throw 11 of his 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Bulldogs' final five games, while also leading the team in rushing with 1,018 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He has 3,504 rushing yards in his career and now holds the SEC rushing touchdowns record for a quarterback with 45. That makes him an impressive commodity for 2018 Outback Bowl betting, and helps explain why the line is so big.

The low total of 42 suggests a very low scoring defensive duel in this year’s Outback Bowl. While it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that play out, there is a chance that both defenses could create turnover and/or set up better field position. The offenses were both better down the stretch as well.

Laying more than a touchdown with a total of 42 is not favorable unless your defense can shut down an opponent under 17 points. Mississippi State is capable of that, but still some risk with the price to lay and pay. Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead is underrated and rising up the ranks, but it’s still his first bowl game in preparation as a head coach, and Iowa coach Ferentz is 9-6 ATS in the post season. That's worth banking on in circumstances like these.

2018 Outback Bowl Free Pick – Iowa Hawkeyes +7.5

Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.